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Speech to Text
Alex Chertok

for Sonja

sleep all night was fruit falling from its branch

but scared to death of hitting ground


so past her father’s workshop she tiptoed 

into her brother’s room 

then down on all fours to sniff his satchel 


and bite its zipper instead of touching 

his forehead with the soft speaking of his name


a goodbye was the sole property

of the patent-hungry heart


poor form on hands and knees

at the starting blocks with his war gear 

who couldn’t be outrun beside her


at each dreambreath her brother

paused to declare desertion before 

thinking better of it 


what secret did the seashell of blood tell

into her ear when she stood up from the floor too fast

or the robin’s lightheaded song at the window 


how to put the shushing of floor boards to text 

tongue against gums to text


or her pause to pick her teeth

the satchel’s zipper stuck there 


she stood still so as not to wake her brother 

beneath the robin’s sun-hoarding wings


in his warm bedroom’s winter starving

his eyes closed and cheeks draining of red 

the slow bloodletting of his sleep

Alex Chertok has poems published in The Kenyon Review Online, The Missouri Review, The Cincinnati Review, Third Coast, Copper Nickel, and Best New Poets 2016, among others, and an essay on his teaching inside a maximum-security prison published in Ploughshares. He was runner-up in the North American Review’s 2019 James Hearst Poetry Prize, and finalist in the 2020 Third Coast Poetry Contest. He currently teaches at Ithaca College and through the Cornell Prison Education Program.

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